Tag Archives: children

Goodnight, South Carolina

Some days . . . the news is discouraging. Some days . . . evidence piles up suggesting that nearly everyone on the planet is far too greedy and selfish. On those days, I can’t help but wonder how our local, national, and worldwide communities survive. It feels like we’re a hopeless species heading for a cataclysmic end.

Sunset on StillwaterBut then I have a day like yesterday. A day where I had the honor and privilege to spend time hanging out with people who are professional, smart, compassionate, and dedicated to helping children learn, thrive, and get closer to reaching their potentials. I’m sure you know what I mean. If you turn off the media and peek under the surface, you’ll find tons of people “out there” who wake up every day and work tremendously hard to make the world just a little bit better, for everyone.

For me, yesterday’s group was the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists. They were amazing. They were kind. About 110 of them listened to me drone on about doing counseling with students who, due, in part, to the quirky nature of universe, just happen to be living lives in challenging life and school situations. The school psychologists barely blinked. They rarely checked their social media. They asked great questions and made illuminating comments. They were committed to learning, to counseling, to helping the next generation become a better generation.

All day yesterday and into the night I had an interesting question periodically popping up in the back of my mind. Maybe it was because while on my flight to South Carolina, I sat next to a Dean of Students from a small public and rural high school in Wisconsin. Maybe it was because of the SCASP’s members unwavering focus and commitment to education. The question kept nipping at my psyche. It emerged at my lunch with the Chair of the Psychology Department at Winthrop University.  It came up again after my dinner with four exceptionally cool women.

The question: “How did we end up with so many people in government who are anti-education?”

Yesterday, I couldn’t focus in on the answer. I told someone that–even though I’m a psychologist–I don’t understand why people do the things they do. But that was silly. This morning the answer came flowing into my brain like fresh spring Mountain run-off. Of course, of course, of course . . . the answer is the same as it always has been.

The question is about motivation. Lots of people before me figured this out. I even had it figured out before, but, silly me, I forgot. Why do people oppose education when, as John Adams (our second President) said, “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

The answer is all about money and power and control and greed and revenge and ignorance. Without these motivations, nearly everyone has a “humane and generous mind” and believes deeply in funding public education.

Thanks to all the members of the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists, for giving me hope that more people can be like you, moving past greed and ignorance and toward a more educated and better world.

Good night, South Carolina. It’s been a good day.

 

Sleep Well in 2017 and Beyond: Podcast Episode 5

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High quality sleep drives nearly everything; it improves your memory, enhances emotional stability, and contributes to good health. This means that nap-time and sleeping through the night is equally good for children and parents. In episode 5, Sleep Well in 2017 and Beyond, Dr. Sara Polanchek shares her personal story of being an exhausted parent and how she turned to sleep to turn her life around. Our special guest, Chelsea Bodnar, M.D., a Chicago-based pediatrician and co-author of Don’t Divorce Us: Kids’ Advice to Divorcing Parents, will tell you how she gets her children to sleep and why sleep depriving your children is just as bad as feeding them doughnuts all day long.

You can listen on iTunes:https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?mt=2

Or Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/sleep-well-in-2017-beyond

Please like it if you like it and comment if you have a reaction or to offer feedback.

The PPP Podcast is also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf

For a couple other sleep-related blog posts, see:

https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/05/23/insomnia/

https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/06/08/insomnia-2-0-13-2/

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast — Episode 2

Hello Parents, Fans of Parents, and Fans of Healthy Child Development:

I need a tiny bit of your time and help.

As you know, the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast was launched on October 31. Yesterday, Episode 2 became live. The title: Practically Perfect Positive Discipline. Today, I’m flexing my marketing muscles (which, as it turns out, are disappointingly more like Gilligan’s than the Incredible Hulk)

Podcasts are a competitive media genre. One way we can try to improve our status from way out here in little Missoula, Montana is for people to listen, like, and rate.

Here’s how you can help:

If you use iTunes, here’s the link. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?mt=2#episodeGuid=2d80f23353e2c7f9d21af865f190d2c4

Please check it out and if you like it, like it, and then give it the rating you think it deserves. We’re trying to get enough ratings to climb up the iTunes rating list.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can get to our podcasts via this link: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/2016

And, either way, we’d love it if you’d like our Facebook page. To do that, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Practically-Perfect-Parenting-Podcast-210732536013377/?notif_t=page_fan&notif_id=1479160427608384

In addition to your social media ratings, we’re ALWAYS interested in your supportive or constructive feedback. We also take questions and suggestions for new show topics. You can provide any or all of that here on my blog or directly to me via email at john.sf@mso.umt.edu

Thanks!

Dr. John and Dr. Sara, The Practically Perfect Podcasters

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Shame, Humility, and a New Parenting Podcast

Life is humbling.

Today we launched our first episode of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast. http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

Leading up to the launch I was more excited than I thought possible. But today, mostly my feelings are swirling around like toilet water into a sewer of embarrassment and shame. I’m worried everyone will hate it.

But don’t worry. It’s not all bad. Humility is a good thing. I should remember that. The podcast won’t be perfect and neither will I. Duh. That’s even IN THE TITLE.

It’s funny—in the non-giggly sort of funny—how insidious feelings of inadequacy can be. Yep. They pop up like popcorn. Once they start, it’s hard to turn down the heat.

The good news is today I’ve dressed as Albert Ellis for Halloween.

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In case you don’t recall, Dr. Ellis invented “shame attacking” exercises. These involve exposing yourself directly to situations (activating events) that might trigger embarrassment or shame. His position was that if you do this, you’ll survive, and in the process prove to yourself that it’s okay to let go of the real triggers for shame: Your underlying irrational beliefs and thoughts.

So today I’m facing my Theories class, dressed in Christmas shorts, and will lead them in singing a couple of Albert Ellis Holiday Carols. At the same time, I’ll be embracing all reactions to the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast, recognizing that some listeners will love the podcast, while others will hate it and possibly share their negative feelings with me. And, like Ellis said, I will survive.

Fortunately, my friend, colleague, and cohost, Dr. Sara Polanchek sometimes disagrees with me right in the middle of the podcasts. That’s a good shame-attacking thing that happens on a regular basis. It has already been proven that I can experience disagreement and live on.

In the end, the point of these Practically Perfect Parenting Podcasts isn’t for Sara and I to be wise and right all the time anyway. Parenting well is immensely challenging. No one is perfect. The point is to engage parents and parenting educators in ways that inspire reflection and intentionality.

We believe there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Instead, we believe in practically perfect parents. Our definition: parents who humbly accept their imperfections, develop self-awareness, love their children, and who are open to learning how to be and become a better parent every day, over and over.

That’s nothing to be ashamed about.

Listen to the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast here: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

 

Announcing the WORLD PREMIERE of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast

Way back in 1996, I had the honor and privilege of becoming the executive director of Families First in Missoula, MT. Mostly I just empowered parents and stayed out of the way of our awesome staff. By 2003, when I left, the seeds for our Divorce and Shared Parenting programs, the Children’s Museum, and Tamarack Grief Resource Center had been planted and were beginning to thrive.

Then I moved on to the University of Montana.

But while at Families First I learned a ton from parents. I was supposed to be “educating” them, but they were equally effective in educating me. And this education has continued to percolate in me and to look for a way to be expressed.

This brings me to a big announcement.

On Monday, October 31, there will be a WORLD PREMIERE of THE PRACTICALLY PERFECT PARENTING PODCAST.

I invite you to check it out. http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

I also invite you to share it with family, friends, and on social media.

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is about 25 minutes of Dr. Sara Polanchek and me talking about a variety of parenting issues. It will be posted online and new episodes will be available twice monthly. I met Sara back in 1998 when I hired her as a parenting educator at Families First. She’s also known as the Missoula sleep guru because of her keen skills at helping parents help their children sleep better.

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is part fun and part education. Dr. Sara and I hope you’ll like it. We also hope parents benefit from listening to it. Even if you don’t agree with what we say, it doesn’t hurt to listen about parenting options and to think more intentionally about what sort of parent you’d like to be.

Back in our Families First days, the philosophy was to support parents in their efforts to parent just a little bit better every day . . . until eventually they all became perfect parents who were levitated into a special Parenting Hall of Fame. Of course, that’s a ridiculous goal, because there’s no such thing as a perfect parent.

Then again, maybe you can become practically perfect. Give it a listen and see what you think. http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

John and Nora

How to Talk so Parents will Listen: Strategies for Influencing Parents

Last June I had a chance to go to Chicago to be filmed doing three professional THERAPY TALKS. It was a challenging situation; just me and a camera and a few production folks. One of the TALK topics focused on how to work effectively with parents. As it turns out, this video and others I’ve done with Microtraining are now available at their website: https://www.academicvideostore.com/publishers/microtraining (you have to search for Sommers-Flanagan).

Here’s the text, more or less, from the “How to Talk so Parents will Listen” TALK.

When I talk with large groups about parenting, I like to begin with a survey. I ask: “How many of you ARE parents?” Of course, nearly everyone raises his or her hand. Then I ask a follow up: “How many of you WERE children.” At this question some participants laugh and a few raise their hands and others joke that they’re still immature.

This reason I start with this survey is because if you’re a parent, you know that being a parent is an amazing and gratifying challenge. You also know that it’s 24-7; and you know it doesn’t end when your child turns 18. You’re a parent for life. And if you WERE a child, and all of you were, then you know how important it is to have a parent or caretaker who makes it perfectly clear that YOU ARE LOVED. But there’s more. If you were a child, then you also know how important it is to have a parent who not only loves you, but who is skillful . . . a parent who is dedicated to being the best parent possible.

Plain and simple: PARENTS NEED SKILLS FOR DEALING WITH THEIR CHILDREN IN THE 21ST CENTURY. And learning to be a better parent never stops.

Once upon a time I had a mom come consult with me about her five year old son. She said: “I have a strong-willed son.” My response was to acknowledge that lots of parents have strong-willed children. She said, “No, no, you don’t get it. I have a very strong-willed son, let me tell you about it. Just the other night, I asked him to go upstairs and clean his room and he put his hands on his hips and said, “NO.” So I said in response, “Yeah, yeah. He sounds very strong willed.” And she said, “Wait. There’s more. I asked him to clean his room a second time and he glared and me, and said “NO. YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME?” Then she told me the real problem. The problem was that, in fact, she did want a piece of him at that particular point in time and so she grabbed him and hauled him up the stairs in a way that was inconsistent with the kind of parent she wanted to be.

This is one of the mysteries of parenting. How can you get so angry at a small child whom you love more than anything else in the world?

Parents are a unique population and deserve an approach to counseling that’s designed to address their particular needs. In this talk I’ll mostly be using stories to talk about:

a. what parents want for their children
b. what parents need in counseling
c. and how professionals can be effective helpers.

Most parents want some version of the same thing: To raise healthy and happy children who are relatively well-adjusted. But what do parents need in counseling. WHAT WILL HELP THEM GET WHAT THEY WANT?

First, parents need empathic listening. They need this big time. Our American culture puts lots of social pressure on parents . . . It’s implied that parenting should be easy and all parents should want to spend 24-7 with their child in an altered state of parental bliss. But this isn’t reality and so we need empathy for the general scrutiny parents feel in the grocery store, at church, on the playground, and everywhere else.

But they also need listening and specific empathy: like in the situation where the mom wanted to tell me about her 5-year-old son. She had specific information to share and it was really important for me to take time to listen to her unique story about her son who, unfortunately, may have seen too many Clint Eastwood movies.

Parents come to counseling or parent education feeling simultaneously insecure and indignant. They feel insecure because of the scrutiny they feel from their parents and in-laws and society, but they also feel indignant over the possibility that anyone might have the audacity to tell them how to parent their children. As professionals, we need to be ready to handle both sides of this complex equation.
Another thing parents have taught me over the years is to never start a parenting session by sharing educational information. You should always wait to offer educational advice, even when parents ask you directly for it. When they do ask, let them know that your ideas will be more helpful later once you get to know what’s happening in their family.

This leads us to the second crucial part of what parents need in counseling. They need collaboration. We can’t be experts who tell parents what to do, instead we have to recognize that parents are the experts in the room. They’re the experts on their children, on their family dynamics, and on themselves. If we don’t engage and collaborate with parents, very little of what we offer has any chance of being helpful.

Parents also need validation to counter their possible insecurity. We call this radical acceptance or validation and it involves explicitly and specifically giving parents positive feedback. We do this by affirming, “You sure seem to know your daughter well.” And by saying, “When I listen to how committed you are to helping your son be successful in life, I can’t help but think that he’s lucky to have you as a parent.”

And so we begin with empathic listening and we move to collaboration and we make sure that we offer radical acceptance or validation and we do all this so we can get to the main point: providing parents with specific parenting tips or guidance.
And there are literally TONS of specific parenting tips that professionals can offer parents. Most of the good ones include four basic principles:

First, getting a new attitude – because developing parenting skills requires a courageous attitude to try things out.

The second one involves making a new and improved plan. Because a courageous attitude combined with a poor plan won’t get you much.

Third is to get support when you need it. Parenting in isolation is almost always a bad idea.

Fourth, underlying all tips there should be the foundation of being consistently loving.

I’d like to tell two parenting stories to illustrate all of the preceding ideas.

This first story is about a parenting struggle I had. I share it for two reasons: One is that it’s a great example of the need for parents to make a new plan to handle an old problem. And two, often it’s good to self-disclose—but not too much—when working with parents.
When my youngest child was 5-years-old, she ALSO was a strong-willed child. I vividly recall one particular ugly scene on the porch. It was time for us to leave the house. But we lived in Montana and there was snow and my daughter needed to put her boots on. Funny thing, she was on a different schedule than I was. This created tension and anger in me. And so I got down into her face and I yelled GET YOUR BOOTS ON! And her eyes got big and she did. Later that evening I was talking with my wife and she saw the scene and she said to me, “I know John, that’s not the kind of parent you want to be.” And even though it’s not easy to take feedback from our romantic partners, she was right and so obviously so, that I had no argument” which led me to tell her, “I’m not going to yell at our daughter any more. I am, instead going to whisper, because I learned in a parenting book, that sometimes when you’re angry it’s more effective to whisper than it is to yell. That was my new plan. Of course, like new plans everywhere, it needed tweaking. But it didn’t take long for me to have an opportunity to test it because if there’s anything on the planet that’s predictable, it’s that we’ll all soon have another chance to manage our anger toward our children more constructively.

It was the next day or week and my daughter did not get her boots on and she was not on the same schedule as me and I got down in her face, once again, but I remembered the plan to whisper and I did my best to transform my anger from the historical yell to the contemporary whisper and what happened was that what came out was sort of like the exorcist and I said to my daughter: “GET YOUR BOOTS ON!”

Now. I wasn’t especially proud of that, but she got her boots on.

It was the beginning of a big change for me because I learned I could play the exorcist instead of yelling; then I learned to growl and then I learned to count to three and then I learned a cool technique called Grandma’s rule where you use the formula, WHEN YOU, THEN YOU to set a limit and build in a positive outcome. Like . . . “Honey, when you get your boots on, then you can have your cell phone back.” Very cool.

What I learned from this experience is that I could be more than a one-trick parenting pony. I became the kind of parent who, although far from perfect, was able to set limits that were in my daughter’s best interest.

And what I like the best about this particular story is that daughter is now 26 years-old and she still says the same thing she used to say to me when she was 15 . . . that is, “Dad, one thing I really love about you is you never yell.” What’s cool is that I did yell, but I worked on it, I made a new plan, and now she doesn’t even remember the yelling.

I’d like to finish with one last story about how much parents need people like you to have empathy, collaborate, validate, and offer concrete parenting ideas.

I was working with a 15-year-old boy. His mom was bringing him to counseling because he and his dad weren’t speaking anymore. I hadn’t met the dad, but one day, when I went to the boy’s IEP meeting at school the dad was there. I saw this as a chance to make a connection and get him to come to counseling.

I did a little chit-chatting and sat next to him in the group meeting. Then, at one point, I asked the boy a question: “If you got an A on a test, who would you show first?” He answered, “I’d show my dad, my mom, and my special ed teacher.” This inspired me to turn to his dad and say, “It’s obvious that you’re very important to your son and so I’d like to invite you to come join him and me in counseling.” Dad gave me a glare and pushed my shoulder and began a 2-minute rant about how the school had failed his son. Everyone was stunned and then he turned back to me and said, “I’ll come to counseling. I been to counseling before and I can do it again.”

At that point I wondered if I could take back my offer.

The day the dad drove to counseling he and his son weren’t speaking, so I met with them separately. The son was clear that he would never speak to the dad again, but the dad was open. When I asked if I could offer him some ideas, he said, “Well I tried MY best and that dog don’t hunt, so I can try something else.” I was wishing for subtitles.

I told the dad I wanted him to keep his high standards for his son, but to add three things. First, I asked, do you love your son? The dad said “Yes” and so I told him, “Okay then. I want you to tell him ‘I love you’ every day.” He said, “Usually I leave that to the wife, but I can do that.” Second, I said, “Everyday, I want you to touch your son in a kind and loving way.” He asked, “You mean like give him a hug?” I said, “that would be great” and he responded, “Usually I leave that to the wife too, but I’ll give it a shot.” Third, I said, “Once a week, you should do something fun with your son, but it has to be something that he thinks is fun.” He said back: “That’s no problem. We both like to go four-wheeling, so we’ll do that.”

And they left my office for an hour-long of what I imagine was a silent trip home.

The next afternoon, I got a call from the mom. She was ecstatic. She said, “I don’t know what you did or what you said, but they’re talking again.” And then she added, “This morning, when they were in the kitchen, I was in the other room and I thought I heard them hug and when I saw my son walking down the driveway to head to school, there were tears running down his cheeks.”
This was obviously a mom who was listening and watching very closely.

Things got much better for the 15-year-old after that. He didn’t get straight As, but he stopped getting straight Fs. And I learned two things: First, I learned just how much that boy needed to get reconnected with his father. And second, I learned that sometimes, no matter how gruff parents may seem, what they need is some clear and straightforward advice about how to reconnect with their son or daughter.

My final thoughts about this topic are very simple. I hope you’re inspired enough to acquire the knowledge and skills it takes to work effectively with parents. I know their children will deeply appreciate it.

Thanks for listening.

John and Nora

The Montana Parenting Podcast Needs You!

In about 10 days Dr. Sara Polanchek and I will produce our first parenting podcast. This is a project supported by grants from the Engelhard Foundation and the Morris and Helen Silver Foundation. We are very grateful for this support.

If you’re reading this, consider offering us some assistance. Nope, I’m not asking for cash (not yet anyway). What we need is a little of your fabulous creative input. In particular, please email Sara or me or post on this blog your answer to the following question:

WHAT COOL, CATCHY, AND PROFOUND TITLE SHOULD WE GIVE TO OUR PODCAST?

Okay, maybe you need more information.

The plan is for Sara and I to produce about 50 parenting podcasts. Each one will be about 15-20 minutes long. We’re trying to be interesting, sometimes provocative, and cutting edge. For example, our first podcast will be on spanking or corporal punishment and, among other things (like our pithy and educational anecdotes),  we’ll be weaving science and Adrian Peterson and Chris Carter’s commentary on corporal punishment into the show. In fact, we have so much to say on this that it may end up being a two-parter.

We have many planned topics, but since our goal is 50 “episodes” you’re also welcome to provide us with your thoughts on topics YOU think we should cover.

We also have lots of expertise (IMHO), but if you happen to be an expert or know an expert whom you think we should have as a guest on our program, feel free to offer that too.

The goal of the podcast is to provide interesting and helpful information for parents and parenting educators. The podcast will be posted on the National Parenting Education Network (NPEN) website, as well as other websites interested in promoting positive, research-based, developmentally sensitive parenting for the 21st century. You can check out NPEN at npen.org. We advocate FIRM, but NONVIOLENT parenting.

In summary, please share any or all of the following:

YOUR IDEAS FOR A SMASHING PODCAST TITLE

YOUR IDEAS FOR FUN AND INTERESTING TOPICS

and (here’s the money thing)

YOUR IDEAS FOR COMPANIES OR INDIVIDUALS WHOM YOU THINK WOULD LIKE TO SPONSOR INDIVIDUAL SHOWS FOR THE BARGAIN PRICE OF $200 (OR MORE).

Thanks for reading and have a fabulous weekend!

John SF